Distractions are all over, and they make life particularly hard for the part-time novelist. You’ve only got so much time, a limited time, to devote to your craft, so you don’t want to fritter it away on other things. Still, it’s easy to let your eyes wander from the page to the clock, or to social networking, the latest political debacle or the newest toy in the chest.
I have a hard time with this. I write in an office filled with distractions. There’s a music system, the day-job computer, guitars, microwave, electronic photo frame, iPad, art equipment… No wonder my attention wanders.
The obvious solution appears to be for me to create a space in which there is nothing but me and my laptop, but in my beloved suburban ranch, which I share with my beloved suburban family, my crowded little office is the only option for solitude.
Also contributing to the problem of distraction is my own tendency toward inattention, or, rather, paying attention to many different things in short bursts. I don’t know if an expert would diagnose me with ADD or ADHD, but the inattention thing is certainly present.
So, what am I going to do about it? What are you going to do about it, for that matter?
I’ve come up with something that I think is working, at least for me. It’s a combination of disciplining myself to pay strict attention and going with the flow of my inattention. Here’s the deal…
First, I accept that I’m distractible, at least at this point in my life. That clears the decks of guilt and all that useless garbage.
I get some of my distractions out of the way up front, when I sit down to write. Email, making sure my coffee is hot enough (remember that microwave?), etc.
Now I minimize distractions. I turn the music system off, unless it’s playing white noise or some specific, spacey sounds I often write with. I turn the picture frame off.
At this point, I may set a timer or not, depending on my inclination for the day. The timer sets my period of strict focus. If I don’t feel like setting a timer, I rely on my gut to tell me when to look up (this is riskier, but it works for me if I insist on a strong gut feeling, not just any old antsy notion).
I fire up the old manuscript and get to work. I bend over the keyboard and focus completely on the story and the words (well, 90% — I’m not perfect).
When the timer or my gut tell me to stop, I stop and indulge a distraction. I keep this time short! Five minutes max. A timer is particularly useful here.
After the break, I go back to focused writing. I repeat the writing-break-writing cycle until my time is up.
In all honesty, I must admit that this approach decreases my words-per-day output, but then, I didn’t get into the writing business to produce a certain number of words per day. I got into it for the joy of it, and giving my distractible nature a chance to flex increases that to no end.
Please leave a comment, or Wishie the troll might climb into your bedroom one night and stand beside your head until you wake up. It’s quite a shock when you turn your head and see him there, believe me.